Financial Times.

October 28, 2012 3:50 pm

Independent Scotland faces EU application

By James Fontanella-Khan in Brussels, Kiran Stacey in Edinburgh and Tobias Buck in Madrid

Scotland’s hopes of automatically obtaining EU membership if Scots vote for independence from Britain in 2014 could be 
dashed by legal problems and political opposition from other member states.

EU bureaucrats have declined to spell out the legal position following Scottish secession from the UK, arguing that there
 is no precedent. But behind closed doors there is near unanimity that any country born out of the break-up of a member
state would have to apply for membership.

“If you have secession from an existing member state the original member of the EU would
automatically stay, although a number of issues such as voting rights would have to be
 reassessed, but the new country would have to apply for membership,” says an EU official.

This contradicts what Alex Salmond, Scotland’s first minister, has been arguing for
months. The leader of the Scottish National party claims Scotland would automatically
become a member of the EU if it became independent.

That legal position gives a veto to EU capitals worried about setting a precedent for
 their own secessionist movements, most obviously Spain.

Madrid, which is trying to see off an independence push by the region of Catalonia,
has made clear its lack of enthusiasm for Scottish secession.

José Manuel García-Margallo, the Spanish foreign minister, said last week independent
Scotland would have to “get to the back of the queue” for EU membership.

“States that declare independence have to request admission to international organisations
 they want to join. That is common practice in international law,” a spokesman for the
Spanish foreign ministry said.

Alistair Sutton, an EU lawyer and visiting professor of European Law at the University
of Edinburgh, says that Scotland would need to obtain international recognition from the
EU before becoming a member.

“It can’t take its international existence for granted . . .  it would have to apply for
 membership,” he says. “You can’t expect them to walk into EU meetings the day after it gains independence. The commission, the council and the European parliament will not accept that.”

The row over whether Scotland could remain a part of the EU after independence blew up
last week after Nicola Sturgeon, the party’s deputy leader, admitted the government
had not taken legal advice to justify  its claim that it would automatically retain membership.

Alistair Darling, the former chancellor and head of the group fighting independence, described the incident as
a “turning point” in the campaign. Speaking to the Financial Times, Mr Darling said: “Alex Salmond has been caught
out saying something he knew was not true, and on one of the most critical issues of the independence debate.”

Mr Salmond could still pull it off, according to some EU officials, if Scotland agreed to a passive membership, which would
 give it access to the bloc’s single market but not a seat at the EU Council, the club of heads of state that meet regularly to
 decide on key union matters. Scotland could then apply for a full membership, which could take several years, but in the
meantime it would not be forced to leave the union.

Madrid has shown it is ready to stand against the vast majority of EU member states with its refusal to recognise Kosovo
as a breakaway state.

William Hague, UK foreign minister, has kept Madrid abreast of developments in Scotland and he provided
Mr Garcia-Margallo with an official UK government analysis of the EU legal position if the country voted for independence.